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Need Help Representing Yourself?

Traditionally, hiring an attorney has meant purchasing a "bundle" of all of the legal services necessary for an attorney to represent you from start to finish of your case. Such a traditional "full representation" bundle of services is expensive. As a result, it is becoming more common for financial constraints to force people to choose to represent themselves rather than hire an attorney.

Unfortunately, the chances of a non-attorney winning a case without legal assistance is quite slim. The law is complex and judges are overworked. The judge is not going to take the time to explain even the most basic matters to you, much less the more complex points of law and procedure which you will be expected to know. The agency attorney, however, will be quite willing to take advantage of your ignorance. And the judge's position, more often than not, will be "ignorance of the law is no excuse."

Legal Coaching

There is an alternative to full representation which is frequently referred to by attorneys as "unbundling" or “legal coaching.” When an attorney offers unbundled legal services, he or she provides to a client (who is otherwise handling an action pro se) one or more specific services out of the possible range of services normally "bundled" together as part of full representation.

When legal services are unbundled so that legal assistance can be offered without full representation, an attorney can offer such services at prices well below the normal hourly charge for full representation.

Admittedly, this is a controversial service. Many traditional law firms see this as a threat to their money-making full service approach to the practice of law. Some states, such as California, have accepted and even encouraged legal coaching, especially in connection with family law cases. Other states have not accepted legal coaching.

Under the current rules of the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), even if you win your case, you cannot be compensated for legal coaching costs. Any motion for recovery of attorney fees and cost which is based on legal coaching will be denied. This is extremely important and must be carefully considered before hiring a legal coach.

Available Services

Instead of taking on your entire case, a lawyer delivering unbundled legal services will provide (through e-mails, telephone calls, faxes, mail, and office visits) discrete services in which you are assisted:

LEGAL ADVICE
  • to better understand the legal issues of your case with an emphasis on understanding what you must prove in order to have a chance of winning and the means you can use to prove these things.
  • to understand the laws cited, and instructions issued by, the judge assigned to your case.
  • to understand the arguments made, and the laws cited, by the agency’s representative.
  • to develop and implement a legal strategy for handling your case.
  • to obtain guidance on preparing for hearing, teleconferences, and other meetings.
  • SETTLEMENT
  • to understand and navigate the settlement process.
  • to estimate the value of your claim.
  • to know when the agency is low-balling you or offering “empty promises” in exchange for you giving up your claims.
  • to obtain advice on how to handle settlement negotiations.
  • EVALUATION
  • to objectively evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your case so as to avoid the frequent errors of emotionally-colored self-diagnosis of the case.
  • to become more knowledgeable concerning your legal rights and options.
  • to obtain reviews of correspondence and court documents so as to enable you to more correctly understand what crucial documents are actually saying.
  • PROCEDURE
  • to obtain professional guidance and procedural information for filing or serving documents.
  • to obtain professional guidance on preparing and/or responding to case documents.
  • Assistance preparing and/or suggesting documents to be prepared.
  • EVIDENCE
  • to obtain advice and guidance concerning factual investigation: contacting witnesses, public record searches, in-depth interview of client.
  • DISCOVERY
  • to obtain help in preparing and responding to interrogatories, depositions, requests for document production, etc.
  • OTHERS
  • Legal research and analysis on specific points of law raised by the judge or agency representative.
  • Ghost-writing of legal documents.
  • Counseling concerning possible appeal.
  • Hiring an attorney to provide you with unbundled services can save you money because the attorney does only as much or as little work for you as you desire. You handle the rest of the work yourself.

    The chief advantage here is that an attorney can serve as a "legal coach": helping you to avoid common mistakes such as arguing to the judge about "abc" when—from a legal standpoint—the core issue in your case is "xyz." A surprising number of people do precisely this and then fail to understand afterwards why they lost their case. To have any hope of winning, you must understand the law.

    Hiring a law coach isn’t for everyone.

    There are extremely serious tradeoffs and very real dangers involved in hiring a legal coach.

    1. A legal coach does not become your representative of record. Your legal coach helps you, but does not handle your case for you.

      This means that you remain responsible for all of the usual responsibilities of counsel of record, such as: hearing appearances, calendaring, filing papers with the judge and agency, and meeting the deadlines in your case.

      Bottom line: You retain full control over your case and you make all of the decisions concerning how your case is handled. Because of this, you retain full and complete responsibility for the handling and outcome of your case.
    2. Legal coaching is only for those people who are capable of representing themselves with only occasional legal help.

      As explained above, representing yourself (even with legal help) is a difficult and challenging task.

      If you are a procrastinator or if you lack good reading, writing and/or logical reasoning skills, representing yourself can prove to be a major and quite costly mistake in terms of losing your claims.

    3. REPEATED WARNING: Under the current rules of the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), even if you win your case, you cannot be compensated for legal coaching costs.

      AGAIN: You cannot—and will not—be awarded recovery of legal coaching fees in an MSPB or EEOC case. Awards of attorney fees and costs are not available for legal coaching.

      As a result, if you are unable to represent yourself, do not hire a legal coach.

      If recovery of legal fees is important to you, do not hire a legal coach.

      If you can handle only a few things and would need a lot of legal help with almost everything, legal coaching would probably not be a good idea for you.

    4. Legal coaching is severely limited in scope and places maximum responsibility on you. Only those services specified in the contract will be provided and then only upon instructions from you.

    5. Handled properly, legal coaching can result in less money risked upfront on your case and it gives you greater control over costs because the coach does only as much, or as little, work as you choose. But, legal coaching also means far more work and responsibility for you and an increased risk of failure if it turns out that you can't handle your matter without full representation.

      Plus, you must bear in mind that an attorney's ability to advise you is directly dependent on the extent of the attorney's knowledge of your case. You can choose to obtain general guidance or more specific guidance (based on a document review), but the more the attorney knows, the better the advice possible. In assigning work, this must be kept in mind.

      This increased risk of failure, as compared with traditional full representation, is a profound danger that you must consider very carefully before hiring a legal coach.

    Hiring a legal coach is not for everyone. You must consider your own abilities and limitations. If you are not capable of working hard and accepting responsibility for your own mistakes, then hiring a legal coach is not for you.

    If you feel that you can or must handle your own case, but need occasional legal coaching, contact us so that we can discuss whether or not this might be a good choice for you.